Currently reaching epidemic proportions, particularly in Asia, the disease has destroyed pig populations and affected pig prices globally.
Although a vaccine is reported to be being developed, ViroVet and Pirbright have focused their efforts on antiviral drugs that could help control the spread of the disease.
In tests, these antivirals have demonstrated a 90% reduction rate in viral replication. The most successful candidates will be further tested at Pirbright’s unique high containment facilities. Scientists will assess whether the antiviral drugs are effective at preventing 14 different types of ASF virus from replicating in macrophages - immune cells which the virus usually targets in pigs. This will help to pinpoint how the antivirals work, and allow researchers to optimise the drugs so that they are effective against a wide range of ASF virus strains. The most efficient candidates will then be trialled in pigs to establish safety.
Pirbright scientists have been funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) LINK programme to partner with ViroVet and develop the antiviral drugs.
Dr Linda Dixon, head of the ASF Group at Pirbright, said: “The unique experience of ViroVet make them the ideal company to partner with on this project. The results from this study will help us understand more about how the virus infects pigs, and will help to inform our vaccine development research. Without a viable vaccine, ASF is incredibly difficult to control owing to its ability to be spread by wild boar and through the consumption of contaminated pork and other products by pigs. Having a tool which could lower the risk of further transmission once pigs have been infected would go a long way in preventing the rapid spread of this disease.”
Dr Nesya Goris, chief development officer and co-founder of ViroVet added: “This joint research will help us select a potent antiviral drug that could stop transmission of ASF from infected animals and prevent spread to healthy pigs. We are extremely proud and honoured to partner with the expert scientists of The Pirbright Institute. The study will help advance the new concept of ASF containment using antiviral drugs.”
Meanwhile, the OIE has announced a global initiative to tackle ASF which includes proper sharing of information amongst affected markets.